Russian (and Serbian) grammar

I recently learned about two grammatical constructions concerning verbs in Serbian. They are the equivalents of the English pluperfect and present perfect. I was wondering if I could apply the same principles in Russian. First Serbian:

Pluperfect = већ (already) + perfective:
већ су попили = they had drunk

Present perfect = већ (already) + present tense
Маја већ две године студира енглески = Maja has been studying English for two years (implying that she’s still studying)

In Russian I believe this would be (but please do correct me if I’m wrong):
они уже попили = they had drunk
Мая уже два года учит английский = Maja has been studying English for two years.

Please tell me if these Russian examples are any good. Also, does anyone know of any good site to learn more things like this?


In my experience, when it comes to fine points of grammar, a bit, let’s say “uncharted territory”, you’re better off searching for specialized, scholar publications that address that particular point.
Typically, you’ll find there’s no general agreement and a modicum of effort is required in order to understand those texts and compare different views.

As an example, I just found this paper on “present perfect” in Russian.
Bottomline: There’s no present perfect in modern Russian (my understanding is that this also applies to pluperfect) but there was in Old Russian and here is explained what it was like and how it compares to English/German:

Edit: I’ve made a mistake, the paper actually foucuses on “past perfect” or “pluperfect”. Again, my understanding is that there’s no present perfect, either, but I’ll be waiting for input from natives/experts.

There are a lot of similarities in the Grammar of all Slavic languages.
However, they are not the same.
During the history Russian lost ‘aorist’ which could be interpreted as ‘a perfect tense’.
Now we have the perfective aspect of the verbs but no real perefect or plusperfect tenses.
They had drunk = Они выпили.
The second phrase is correct.

Oh reading that paper would likely give me headaches that no amount of paracetamol in the world could take the edge off. What I’m interested in is practical grammar, although I don’t mind a little history and comparison here and there.

I understand that feeling but you asked where you can learn “things like that” and I’m afraid that’s the only general way, but you can always ask in this forum!!! :slight_smile:
I do happen to like reading through some theoretical material now and then, though.

Aorist was not a perfect tense. The Old Russian had 4 forms of the past:

  1. aorist (the most frequent) was used to indicate the action which took place in the past within a time frame without any connection to the present, the absolute past. It was used with both the perfective and imperfective aspect. [btw, the modern conditional particle ‘‘бы’’ was originally the aorist form (singular second and third person) of the verb ‘‘быть’’.]
  2. imperfect was similar to aorist, but indicated habitual/repeated actions without the time frame
  3. perfect was analytical form which was used to express a past event that had present consequences. The modern Russian past tense was developed from this form.
  4. pluperfect.

The modern Russian has only one past tense and only one present. There isn’t a grammatical category in Russian which on its own would express the connection between the past and the present as the perfect tense does in English. The perfective aspect IS NOT a tense and DOES NOT express the link between the past and the present. English present tense translates with the past perfective aspect, but the past perfective aspect can be translated with the past simple, the present or past perfect, depending on the context.

+Bautov. So, Old Russian was very similar to modern-day Spanish, as far as past tenses are concerned.
Yes, what you say does match what the above mentioned paper explained.
I understand that pluperfect was also an analytical form, is that correct? Again, in line with modern Spanish.
Thanks for the explanation.

Yes, the pluperfect was also an analytical form. Perfect – present form of the verb быть + participle with the suffix -л-; pluperfect – past form of быть + participle.

Over time, the auxiliary verb ‘‘быть’’ dissapeared and the suffic -л- became the suffix of the verb in the past tense.

It may seem strange but the archaic form of the pluperfect has remained in the modern Russian. Here is the famous line from the famous fable: ‘‘На ель ворона взгромоздясь, позавтракать совсем было уж собралась’’. ‘‘Было собралась’’ is the archaic pluperfect (of course in the modern Russian it’s just a compound predicate, not a separate grammatical form). The pattern ‘‘было + past tense verb’’ is used when you want to say that something was started, but was not finished or when you decided to do something, but did not, and so on. Eg. ‘‘Я было начал учить китайский, но бросил’’.

Very interesting!

I’ve edited my post: ''The pattern ‘‘было + past tense verb’’ (not ‘‘infinitive’’ of course)